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What is the best track surface for high schools?

So it’s time to choose a track surface – which route should you go? The good news is there are only a handful of standard track surfacing systems offered, and only two that are standard for high schools: Polyurethane Black Mat and Structural Spray systems, and then Latex Systems. Then, the two most important factors that come into play when deciding on one of these track surfaces are durability and cost.

Historically, latex systems were a common first-step when schools were moving from a cinder or gravel track to an all-weather track due to Latex’s slightly lower initial installation cost (compared to polyurethane). In recent years, a higher percentage of schools are installing polyurethane as their first system, or removing their existing latex systems to install a polyurethane system. This shift is due to less frequently-needed resurfacings and the longer total life of the polyurethane system.

Latex Running Track Systems

Latex tracks are installed by broadcasting rubber onto the asphalt base, and then coating it with a liquid latex binder. This is performed in multiple lifts and most latex tracks will have two to eight lifts. Naturally, an eight-lift system will last you much longer between resurfacings than a two-lift system, and the frequency of resurfacing can be simply calculated by: number of lifts = number of years between resurfacings. A two-lift latex system should have another top layer installed after two years, and an eight-lift system should have a new top coat put on after eight years. Many latex systems are sold as 7 to 10-year systems regardless of how many lifts are being installed. Make sure you speak with your track provider and are aware of how many lifts are being installed prior to signing on the dotted line.

The most common issue with latex systems is that no matter how many lifts are initially installed, the top layer will shed and harden due to use and UV damage from the sun. As the sun hardens the top layer, and athletes and walkers use the track, the top layer begins to shear off. If you have seen a track like (picture of a worn latex track), then you can be certain that the owner of that track was not able to or did not properly follow resurfacing guidelines. Even if the track surfacing may not be fully worn into the asphalt, the top layer hardens with age and becomes harsher on the athlete’s muscles and joints.

Polyurethane Base Mat and Structural Spray Systems (BM&SS)

Most high schools today are installing a Base Mat and Structural Spray (BM&SS) Polyurethane System. There are higher-level, more expensive polyurethane systems that can commonly be found at the collegiate level, but if you are looking for high-quality that won’t break the bank, the BM&SS hits the sweet spot.

Unlike Latex systems that are installed in lifts of rubber-binder-rubber-binder, BM&SS systems mix the rubber and polyurethane prior to installation onto the track asphalt. This allows for a more durable bond and longer-lasting surface.

The base mat is installed with a paver similar to an asphalt paver – but this paver was built specifically for running tracks. A black base mat alone without a structural spray would wear like a mid-range latex track. What makes these systems stand well above their counterpart is the structural spray component.

The Structural Spray is composed of a finer rubber than is in the black base mat, and much higher percentage of liquid polyurethane. The spray is installed with two passes – once clockwise around the track, and the other counter-clockwise (along with once in each direction for field event runways). The purpose of this spray is to protect the black base mat, which is the true cushion and performance layer of the track. A latex system has no top protection, so as it wears, the system begins to oxidize, thin out and harden. The structural spray on a poly system acts like a sunscreen protecting the black mat from the UV degradation of the sun allowing and maintaining the integrity of your black base mat for the life of your track.

The Structural Spray brings three main benefits to the system above the standard latex systems:

1) UV Protection – By providing a UV-protected layer over the base mat, the sun cannot damage the base mat.

2) Use Protection – As athletes and the community uses the running track, the spray will slowly wear over time while maintaining the integrity of the black base mat. Your black base mat will not lose thickness, over time, if new structural sprays are applied accordingly (Appx. every 8 years)

3) Durability – Due to the finer rubber and higher liquid content, the spray seeps into the top layer of the base mat and “locks” the system together. This helps prevent against the cracking commonly seem in latex tracks.

If you have a running track that is in need of attention, or simply have questions regarding the types of track systems that are out there, please do not hesitate to call us at (314) 254-9766.

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